I couldn’t do that in Kabul working for the big aid agencies, Razia Jan

Excerpt from news-piece on Razia’s work for Zabuli Girls School

Her efforts have focused on individuals, her philosophy grounded in a basic truth: countries are comprised of communities, communities of individual people; to help a country recover from disaster, you start with individuals.

Her school, for example, is one of the few in Afghanistan where girls from poor backgrounds can receive a modern education without the burden of tuition fees. It serves the truly marginalised: girls in Afghanistan’s rural hinterland where access to education remains a distant dream for most.

“I wanted to touch those girls,” she explains, “the ones caught in a culture of slavery, where young girls are sold into marriage and condemned to a life of serving their new masters. I couldn’t do that in Kabul working for the big aid agencies.”

But working in Afghanistan’s rural communities comes with some serious risks. Jan recounts one incident, just days before the school opened in 2008:

“I was inside the school cleaning, getting things ready for the opening,” she says. “I was so dirty and dusty and tired. Then one of my workers told me there were four men waiting to speak to me outside. I went out to them, so tired that I even forgot to cover my head, and there they were, these immaculately dressed men standing there. Compared to them I looked like a street urchin. They told me they had a concern: ‘We are from this area and we appreciate what you have done in getting this school built,’ one of them said. ‘But we want to tell you that you still have one last chance to turn this into a boys’ school. Boys are the backbone of Afghanistan.’

“I looked him right in the eyes and I said: ‘I’m sorry brother, but you know, girls are the eyesight of Afghanistan and unfortunately you are all blind.’ They were so shocked they couldn’t speak; they just turned around and walked away. And I’ve never seen them again.”

Since then, the community has come to embrace the school, though occasionally they still pester Jan to offer boys education as well. She refuses. “I tell them I don’t want boys in the school because they break things,” she says, laughing with girlish delight. “If they break a desk, I can’t afford to replace it.”


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